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Transport secretary calls for infrastructure report after scrap yard fire

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has ordered a report into risks to transport infrastructure from nearby sites, after a fire in a scrap yard below the M1 resulted in lane closures and disruption for motorists.

Hammond said it was “crucial that we learn the lessons from this hugely disruptive event” and asked the chief executives of the Highways Agency and Network Rail to provide a report within six weeks, covering potential sources of risk from activities, such as scrap yards, which operate near  roads and railways.   

He said: “ As well as identifying sources and categories of risk, the report will detail the options currently available for managing those risks, identify any gaps and make recommendations about how these should be filled.

“It is vital that we quickly identify any action that needs to be taken to protect our critical transport infrastructure.”

Around 40 fire fighters were called to a fire in a scrap yard on Ellesmere Avenue, Mill Hill, directly below the M1 in the early hours of 15 April. Members of the London Fire Brigade created a “temporary hazard zone” following concerns that heated gas cylinders on site were liable to explode. Although 50 local residents were evacuated, no-one was hurt.

The national press has reported that the scrap yard in question is Apex Metals, however, there are also nearby car breakers and a skip yard which adjoin the property. The source of the fire is currently unknown.

By the afternoon of Monday 18 April traffic was moving in both directions on two lanes of the M1.

Guidance on the storage of gas cylinders issued by the British Metal Recycling Association states: “All compressed and liquefied gases represent an enormous amount of stored energy in a small volume. Bottles and cylinders are used by everyone and have become a part of our daily lives and are taken very much for granted. There are frequent examples of unintentional release of this energy leading to major fires and explosions. Unintentional slow releases of inert gases can equally lead to asphyxiation in confined spaces.

“The preferred storage for gas cylinders and bottles is in the open air. This leads to the best ventilation and makes it easier to obtain sufficient separation distances from vulnerable plant and buildings.”

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